October 1963, 1 section of 1 troop A coy 40 CDO Royal Marines we were located in a small Dyak kampong known as Rasau 2 an out post from our company base at Lundu.
Our motley crew, two men under strength, consisted of two lads almost straight of the flight from UK, Jeff (tea boy) Urand, Derek(Sticks) Beer, not only but also, Alan(jungle boy) Olding,
Stuart (yank )Randle, Taff(kid karate) Rhodes, Jock(tiger thigh) Phillips, Dick(sports fan)McCardle, Me and our recently promoted section Cpl Titch( hirohito)Underwood and Money our Dyak border scout policeman.
We were engaged in the usual duties patrols along the border, ambushes by request and guard duties every night, pitch black, almost no night vision, ear ache from straining to hear and comprehend every sound.
In addition to my role as lead scout (I was in the sea cubs in civvy street 1948) I was also chef, cook and bottle washer, I could open tins quicker than any one else and prepare a meal with out setting fire to our kitchen/dinning area.
We had received reports from our Kampong that people had been seen near the border “ont tuther side” etc, etc, edgy times for us and the locals. Sleeping was difficult but now and again tiredness gets the better of you and you “go deep” this particular night I was deep asleep.
I was woken by the sound of heavy automatic gun fire, very close in.
Our accommodation was the usual, hut on stilts, atap roof, split bamboo floor, the walls were made from tree bark.
I had been under fire before in Aden, rockets, mortars and the usual night time sniping,
But that was two years previous and not as now, almost right out side the door.
We slept on camp beds, above me hanging on a peg was my rifle and ammunition, we all slept fully booted and spurred. In the Ulu (forest) every thing echo’s and distorts sounds, I was convinced that shots were coming through the walls of the hut and that the insurgents were through the dannett wire defence cordon.
There was a break in the firing I reached up for my weapon, the firing began again, I flattened my self to my camp bed and gripped it that hard it sprung the legs, I was convinced I would be hit any minute.
The next break in the firing I got a grip and was up with rifle and ammo and diving out the door and hit the ground like a sack of spuds.
Diving head long into the guard slit trench, I found Taff screaming “stand to” in a state of total hysteria, I burnt my hand on the very hot barrel of the LMG it was Taff that had been doing all the shooting.
I calmed him down as best I could, a slap round the face stopped him gibbering like a lunatic; then he tells me.
I heard a noise on the track where we close the wire at night, so I shone my torch and there were two blokes kneeling trying to unhook the wire. I brought the LMG into my shoulder and knocked the torch into the trench and illuminated myself.
I cocked the gun whilst trying to kick the torch out, I opened fire, nothing, empty magazine on the gun, in my panic I knocked over the full magazines, managed to get one on the gun and just blazed away until you got here.
By this time the rest of the section were out and in their slit trenches or taking cover under the hut behind sand bags. All but one that is, Yank came “steaming” down the steps of the hut firing from the hip, behind us, fortunately “Jungle Boy” jumped on him, Yank was half American and spent his formative years in the USA he thought he was the reincarnation of Audy Murphy.
Yanks firing ,although behind us was parallel to our trenches and directed straight out of the door in the direction of our galley/dining basher, I remember thinking if that crazy bastard has holed my cooking pots I’ll shoot him in the morning.
I must add that one sections set of three Malay cast aluminium traditional pots were an integral part of the section, passed down from one talented cook to another and were almost our talisman. (boot necks are not superstitious)
Now all was quiet, apart from the pulse thumping in our ears, we stood to for two hours or more, then our section Corporal decide we should return to our guarding roster until day light, we all slept under the hut; strangely enough we did sleep until the guy on guard opens fire again. No hesitations this time.
I was first in the guard trench (self preservation) and it was my fire trench mate Mac, (sports fan ) “what’s up Mac?” just beyond the wire he said; up the reverse slope some body just lit a fag I could see it glowing, “arsehole that’s a bloody fire fly even the bloody Indonesians are not that stupid”.
Again we stand to, eyes like organ stops, as it gets lighter I notice what looked like a hand moving along a large felled tree trunk laying about 80metres to our front, we are all seeing things by now.
I called across to our NCO to request permssion to open fire on what we thought,;Me Mac and Money, was a bandit trying to slip away.
Three rounds rapid fire, chunks of wood flying of the tree trunk and the hand was still moving, then it dawned on me; as it was getting lighter a fresh breeze was blowing directly towards us.
The hand was nothing more than a “wait a while” palm frond being blown forward over the log and the thorns on the palm stem were catching on the tree and holding it in place.
In the improving light we could see the casualties of Kid Karate’s excess with the LMG, about twenty rubbers trees were streaming latex where they should’nt aught to. The Headman was not too chuffed this was their only cash crop.
Royal Marines being innovators in difficult situations set about bandaging the wounds to the rubber trees and successfully stemmed the wayward flows of latex.
The headman and his oppos inspected the ground where Kid Karate had reported seeing the intruders and they confirmed knuckle marks in the soil, personally I could not make it out but at least Taff felt vindicated, well done son. (when in doubt open fire)
The villagers, bless em, had been standing buy with loaded shot guns that night and the following day they came to our basher with enamel plates full of maze corn custardy stuff and a nip or two of Tuak.
Our bold Corporal sent a radio message to HQ to report the firing and to let them know we were all ok with the cheeky post script “un flappable” yeah in yer dreams.
A fright is a great motivator, we set to with a will (even thought he had not joined us yet) with the locals help we felled trees built a double wall below and around our basher, in filled with compacted soil topped with sand bags to give a firm firing position.
Not to be out done I decided to lend a hand with the tree felling, trusty parang in hand I felled a tree approx 200mm in diameter, trimmed it lopped of the top, noticing that the locals felled their trees much faster than me.
Ach well, thinks I, they are more experienced than me and began to heft the tree up onto my shoulder, “Jesus this is F**king heavy” then it dawned on me they were cutting bolsa type trees and I’d tackled a teak tree.
All Dyak eyes were upon me, I could see the little muscle bound bastards grinning from ear to ear. I though the pride of the Corp is at stake I’ve got to do this, and just like
Popeye with his can of spinach, Singing Saray Marie (quick march of The Royal Marines thick-oh’s!) I hefted that tree and staggered man fully as best I could back to the hut with much back slapping from the locals. (I’ve still got a hernia)
Mac and I smashed at least another foot out of our fire trench(bed rock)Money offered technical advised like “is no possible Tuan that’s the top of a hill” Ah bollocks Money go and put the kettle on.
Apart from improving our defences, it was unanimously decided that no man would stand watch alone and to stagger the change over so that there was always and acclimatised pair of ears on watch.
It may strike you gently reader that, I have a some what light hearted attitude to what was potentially a dangerous situation, only when it’s over and you can look for the laughs.
Two things I have learned from my training and service in our illustrious Corps, try and keep a cool head and always look on the bright side and lest we forget, even the bad time’s are good.
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